Wednesday, 13 April 2016

2 x Henry James

Having read a while ago The Turn of the Screw and lately, What Maisie Knew and (for the second time) The Aspern Papers, Henry James is popping up as one of my favourite authors.

He is never an easy read. Well, easy enough to read, but his novels always end in a state of: WHAT! What does he mean? Why don’t we get any answers? It is really amazing.

A while ago I saw a movie based on his What Maisie Knew which I really liked. It was put in a modern setting, but I thought that the end would be more or less in line with James’ novel. So I was reading and reading, amazed over the characters that appears in the novel. Are any of them really sane? Some do seem so, but as mentioned above, James does not want to make it easy for us. Reading on, getting closer to the end, I was just expecting the rather happy ending that I had seen in the film. I was up for a surprise! The ending was neither happy nor unhappy, and definitely not as in the film. And then again, James leaves us with a question mark! Or maybe he wants us to make up our own ideas of the future for his characters.

In short, this novel is about Maisie who is a young girl who is torn between her mother and father when they divorce. They don’t seem to care very much about her, and only care when it means they can hurt each other. She grows up with a governess on both sides. Her mother marries a younger man who takes an interest in Maisie. Her father marries the governess who also takes an interest in Maisie. She ends up spending more time with the governesses and her new step-father than with her own parents. From here the story takes different turns. One thing is for sure. Henry James is never boring!

For the Brontë Reading Group we approached The Aspern Papers. It is said that the story is loosely based on  letters Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, who saved them until she died.

The narrator of the story is a publisher and editor and is preparing a book about the famous, since long dead, poet Jeffrey Aspern. He finds out that one of his mistresses, Juliana Bordereau, is still alive and is supposed to have letters from Aspern. Since all attempts to have access to the letters have been blocked by Juliana, the narrator enters into a scheme to get hold of them. He manages to rent rooms in the big, dilapidated palace in Venice where Juliana is living with her niece Tina. The two ladies are living in solemn solitude. The narrator manages to approach Miss Tina and after a while reveals his intentions. She promises to help him.

In true Henry James spirit a battle of the minds takes over. I will not reveal more, you just have to read this, excellent novella, one of James’ own favourites.

We had livid discussions on this novella in the group. A lot of different ideas about the characters and the scheme and on what really happened. The more we discussed, the more we entered into the characters presented in the book, and on what they really meant with their actions. Fantastic group to discuss books with!


  1. My absolute favorite James is Washington Square. Such a great surprise and rather not in his usually gloomy style. Highly recommended.

    1. I think I read it once upon a time in a distant past! Can't say I remember much of it, so it definitely has to be re-read!